Matthew Wuest brought the NHL's complex salary-cap system to the masses through his wildly popular and influential website CapGeek. And he did it on his own, often from a laptop at his kitchen table in Halifax.
Wuest's creation was the go-to source for salary and contract information for everyone interested in hockey. When he shut it down in January, fans and NHL insiders shared in the disappointment, not realizing that Wuest was battling colon cancer.
Wuest died Thursday at the age of 35.
A hockey reporter for Metro Halifax and previously a sports writer for the now-defunct Halifax Daily News, Wuest also had a degree in computer science that he combined with his journalism background to found CapGeek, a part-time pursuit that also ran with a certain level of computer automation.
When he started the site in 2009, Wuest was going to call it SalaryCapCalculator.com, but his wife, Melanie Patten, persuaded him that from a marketing perspective, CapGeek.com had a better chance.
Wuest was surprised by its success.
"He slowly but surely built up CapGeek, and it just sort of exploded," said Patten, a journalist with the Halifax bureau of The Canadian Press.
Player agent Allan Walsh said it became "an integral part of your daily work life if you worked in the industry."
"I think for fans it brought the salary-cap system to life for them where if you started going to CapGeek on a regular basis, you were able to gain an understanding of how the business of hockey operates," said Walsh.
Even though the league and NHL Players' Association have their own internal cap systems and teams keep track of numbers, executives and agents relied on CapGeek often because it was user-friendly and easy to access. When the Boston Bruins signed two players to contract extensions earlier this month, general manager Peter Chiarelli told reporters during a news conference: "I wish CapGeek was still around."
Brandon Pridham worked for eight years in the NHL's Central Registry department, which maintains all player information, before becoming assistant to the general manager for the Toronto Maple Leafs. While he had the league's system at his fingertips, he often went to CapGeek because of its convenience, and he's far from the only one.
"I know our teams were using it, and I don't blame them at all because it was such a great resource," Pridham said.
Patten said Wuest didn't let the success go to his head.
"Matt was just so humble and really just did it because he really truly found it fun," she said. "It wasn't something that he milked in any way."
Walsh said Wuest would often email or text message him to confirm contract details he had just to make sure they were accurate. Wuest wanted to be on top of everything from signings and trades to promotions, demotions and injuries.
It was the kind of dedication he brought to his day job as well, sometimes covering Halifax Mooseheads practices on his days off, said Patten.
"He didn't want to miss anything," she said. "He wanted to be a trusted, reliable source."
Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill got to know Wuest well from scouting trips through the Maritimes when he worked for the Detroit Red Wings.
"It wasn't just a casual weekend thing," Nill said. "The hockey world is moving every day, and there were things going on and he had it. It was a great passion he had."
Over time, Wuest added buyout and waiver calculators, a trade machine and "Armchair GM" function that allowed anyone to mock up a roster to see if it fit under the salary cap.
"When that went away, there was a real feeling of loss for that information when he had to shut it down," Pridham said. "I haven't gone to search out alternatives, but he really had something good there for those that enjoy hockey and enjoy the cap side of things."
Commissioner Gary Bettman told a small group of reporters in Santa Clara, Calif., recently that he didn't think there was significant fan interest in the subject, and there are concerns about how much of that information owners want to be public.
But many in hockey have said they hope the NHL, NHLPA or someone else in hockey follows Wuest's lead.
"As much as agents, players, team management considered the site a resource, a daily resource, I got so much feedback from fans about how they loved the site, I'd like to see the league or the PA step in and do something that was more public," Walsh said. "There's a void out there now that I'm sure somebody is going to fill."
— With files from Kevin Ward in Halifax
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